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|From Silicon Valley to Choudrant|
V-Vehicle Co. should have rolled out Ray Lane long ago.
Fairly soft spoken and not the tallest man in the world, Lane recently took over as CEO of V-Vehicle, a start-up company that has plans to manufacture inexpensive, fuel-efficient automobiles at the former Guide plant in eastern Ouachita Parish. Lane succeeded company founder Frank Varasano, who was ousted after V-Vehicle learned about a month ago that it had been denied a more than $320 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy. The loan is a must for V-Vehicle to get its manufacturing operation under way.
Lane was on hand late last week at Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant in Lincoln Parish. He was there to promote V-Vehicle at a staged event for elected officials, company investors and a few members of the media. Lane spoke freely and openly about V-Vehicle's future.
A V-Vehicle prototype was on hand, too, for invited guests to test drive, weather permitting. I didn't drive it, but a few people who drove it reported that they were impressed.
The V-Vehicle prototype we saw Friday morning was much larger than I imagined. According to company officials, it's about as long as a Toyota Tercel and about as wide as a 5-series BMW. To me, it looked like a Mini Cooper.
If V-Vehicle can manufacture it and sell it for $10,000-$12,000 per unit as company officials claim, V-Vehicle has a winner on its hands. No question about it.
V-Vehicle's future, though, remains in limbo. It's in limbo because financing courtesy of the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program did not pan out as planned. According to Lane, V-Vehicle Co. did a poor job in pursuing DOE financing the first time around. That may be why Varasano was dethroned, though he remains a member of the company's board of directors.
While it's a forgone conclusion V-Vehicle will reapply to DOE for an ATVM program loan, it was a bit of a surprise when Lane disclosed that V-Vehicle did not ask for enough money the first time it sought DOE financing. He says the company needs to borrow far more than $320 million. In fact, according to Lane, it would take $500 million for V-Vehicle to get off the ground successfully. That would include financial incentives Louisiana Economic Development Corp. pledged to the V-Vehicle project.
Five hundred million dollars is a lot of money to someone like me, but I got the impression in hearing Lane talk that the $500 million figure didn't faze him. That's not surprising in light of Lane's background as a partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, a venture capitalist firm from Silicon Valley in California. KPCB is an investor in V-Vehicle.
Lane knows a thing or two about dealing with DOE and its ATVM program. After all, Lane is associated with Fisker Automotive, another start-up company that has plans to manufacture fuel-efficient automobiles. Fisker recently closed on a $529 million loan from DOE to help develop and produce two lines of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
Fisker will take over a shuttered General Motors plant in Vice President Joe Biden's home state (Delaware) to manufacture its Karma and Project NINA lines. Certainly no pressure was applied to Fisker to choose a defunct GM plant in Delaware to manufacture what we should describe as environmentally friendly automobiles.
V-Vehicle probably isn't helped by its association with Louisiana and our Republican governor and our GOP-dominated congressional delegation. So be it. There's nothing we can or should do about it now.
That means the pressure is on Lane, who clearly has the smarts and experience to turn V-Vehicle into a full-fledged automobile company.